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British Industrial History

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John Chester Craven

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John Chester Craven (1813-1887)

1813 He was born in Leeds in 1813 and began an apprenticeship with Robert Stephenson and Co of Newcastle, later transferring to Fenton, Murray and Jackson of Leeds.

1845 After various engineering jobs, he became locomotive engineer for the Eastern Counties Railway at Stratford Works in 1845.

In December 1847 he took up his principal post at Brighton where he re-organised and enlarged the railway works. He was the locomotive carriage and wagon superintendent of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway from 1847 until his resignation in 1870.

From 1852 Craven began to design locomotives for the company, producing a large number of specialised locomotives designed for specific duties rather than introducing standardised classes. This policy eventually created a chaotic situation on the railway and when the directors pressed him to reduce the number of new classes in 1869, Craven offered his resignation. He was superseded by William Stroudley.

1887 Craven died in 1887.

1887 Obituary [1]

JOHN CHESTER CRAVEN was born on the 11th of September, 1813, at Hunslet, near Leeds. He was the son of Mr. William Craven, one of the old school of millwrights, who was for many years in the employment of the long-established firm of Sandford and Co, of Sweet Street, Holbeck, Leeds, millwrights and engineers. He is said to have been a very careful, thoughtful, and intelligent workman, and to have remained with Messrs. Sandford and Co. in a post of trust up to about seventy years of age, his death occurring at seventy-nine at Manchester.

After receiving a sound average education, John Chester Craven was apprenticed at fourteen years of age to the then celebrated firm of Fenton, Murray and Jackson, of Leeds, who were at the time employing upwards of two thousand workmen.

This was in the year 1827, about one year after the death of Mr. Matthew Murray. He very early showed considerable mechanical talent, and was chiefly employed on important work of a trustworthy character, such as the erection and setting to work of stationary engines, &C., for which the firm was then famous.

When only nineteen years of age his ability was so marked that his employers placed entirely under his control the execution of an order from George Stephenson for six of the first locomotive engines for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway.

He remained with Messrs. Fenton, Murray, and Jackson, until March 1837, when he left during the period of the great strike in Leeds, along with his friend the late Mr. Telford, who was afterwards manager and partner in the firm of Carrett, Marshall and Co, of the Sun Foundry, Leeds.

Mr. Craven and his friend Telford went by way of Hull to London, to the firm of Messrs. Maudslay, where his first work under the late James Sherriffs, Assoc. Inst. C.E., the manager, was on two pairs of engines for working trains up the incline from Euston Station to Camden Town. He was afterwards occupied on the engines for the well-known Great Western steamship, the third steamer to cross the Atlantic.

When he had been with Messrs. Maudslay for nearly a year, although Joseph Maudslay wished him to remain, he returned to Leeds to be foreman and afterwards manager for Todd, Kitson, and Laird. Charles Todd on leaving Messrs. Hick's, of Bolton, was with Messrs. Fenton, Murray and Jackson, before entering into partnership with Messrs. Kitson and Laird. He left them and joined Mr. Shepherd, the firm becoming Shepherd and Todd, of the Railway Foundry, Leeds (later E. B. Wilson and Co.).

Mr. Craven was with Messrs. Shepherd and Todd as manager for more than three years, during which time a number of engines were built for the Manchester and Leeds, York and North Midland, and North Midland Railways ; and others were designed by Mr. Todd and built by Mr. Craven for John Gray for the Hull and Selby Railway These were amongst the first engines (if not the first) fitted with Mr. Gray’s expansion motion, and on which several practical improvements were suggested and carried out by Mr. Craven. One of these engines, the 'Vulcan,' was made for a working pressure of 140 lbs. per square inch, 80 lbs. being that usually adopted up to that period.

During this time, on returning from a trial trip with one of these engines, Mr. Craven had an accident, running into and knocking down a portion of the scaffolding of the then incomplete Marsh Lane Tunnel, Leeds, owing to their arrival earlier than was anticipated, but fortunately without any serious results.

Mr. Craven left the Railway Foundry to become locomotive foreman on the Manchester and Leeds Railway (now part of the Lancashire and Yorkshire system) under the late James Fenton, M. Inst. C.E. While there, in 1844, he was the first to perceive that the tractive power of locomotives was considerable even on steep gradients, and owing to the trials made by him and to his representations on the subject, the before named engine, the 'Vulcan,' was borrowed from the Hull and Selby Railway. The late Sir Wm. Fairbairn, M.Inst.C.E. (then Mr. Fairbairn) was called in, and the experiments he made confirmed Mr. Craven’s representations, which led to the abandonment of rope-haulage for trains up Hunt’s Bank from Victoria Station to Miles Platting. Amongst others present on the occasion were the late T. L. Gooch, M.Inst.C.E., consulting engineer of the Manchester and Leeds Railway and the late Capt. Laws, Assoc. Inst. C.E.

On leaving the Manchester and Leeds Railway in May 1845, Mr. Craven was presented by the workmen and officers with a gold watch and guard, and other marks of their respect.

He was then connected with the locomotive department of the Eastern Counties Railway, at Stratford, during the reign of George Hudson, the Railway King.

In November 1847 he was appointed to the post of Locomotive and Carriage Superintendent and General Mechanical Engineer of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway. This post he held for upwards of twenty-two years, and on his retirement at the end of 1860, he was succeeded by Mr. W. Stroudley, M. Inst. C.E. During this period he designed and built, or had built, upwards of one hundred locomotives for the London and Brighton Railway, besides all other classes of rolling-stock and railway plant, girder bridges, steamships for channel service, &c. Among the locomotives was a side-tank engine for working either end first on the steep gradients on the Crystal Palace branch, of a design since greatly adopted, having in one frame the coupled wheels under the boiler, and a four-wheel bogie under the coal-bunker and foot-plate, behind the firebox.

He was also the first to adopt solid bushed eyes for coupling-rods, and a new design of signal-bell (attached to the engine), for communication between the driver and conductor, so arranged as to work when placed on either side of the engine, or when pulled either from the front or from the rear.

Another of his inventions was the railway wheel-tire with inner lip for preventing fractured tires parting from the wheel.

On his retirement from the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway, he was presented, on the 31st of January, 1870, at the Brighton Town Hall, with an address and a handsome silver epergne and tea-service, bearing the following inscription : 'Presented to J. C. Craven, Esq., Superintendent of the Locomotive and Carriage Departments of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway, by his brother officers, employees, and a few friends.'

After his retirement his time was considerably occupied with steamships, in which he had a large interest, owning shares in about twenty, and in the management of which his partners received considerable assistance from his practical engineering knowledge. He also started in conjunction with others the Victoria Dock Engine Works, superintending their erection and equipment with machinery and tools, and as a Director their management in working.

In 1871 Mr. Craven was elected a Councillor of the Brighton Corporation for St. Peter’s Ward, and remained in this office for ten years. In 1881 the Council conferred on him the honour of an Alderman of the Borough, which position he held at the time of his death. He was also for a number of years a Guardian of the Poor. He served for many years on several important committees of the Council, the 'Baths,' the 'Works,' and the 'Waterworks' committees, and also on the Intercepting Sewers Board. He was said to be a 'model committee man,' being 'distinguished as one of the most useful and energetic members of the Council, saying little, but always speaking with the authority of a mind well versed in the ways of the world, and stored with an immense amount of practical knowledge which he well knew how to apply.'

For years, owing to his valuable assistance on the Waterworks Committee, the Council was saved the sum of £300 per annum, the amount provided for an engineer, which was specially referred to in a report to the Council, owing to the strong desire of his colleagues, who held him in high esteem, to recognize the fact.

He was said to be undoubtedly a 'thorough mechanical engineer of the old school.' His industry, untiring energy, and personal attention to detail, along with great ability for managing and controlling a large staff of officials and workmen, and gaining their esteem, were perhaps his chief characteristics, and contributed most to his success.

During the last two or three years of his life, owing to failing health resulting in the final severe and protracted illness, he was almost entirely secluded from public and other business, scarcely ever being seen abroad.

He died at his residence, Wellesley House, Wellington Road, Brighton, on the 27th of June, 1887, in his seventy-fourth year, and his remains were interred in the Brighton Parochial Cemetery, in the presence of a large number of friends.

Mr. Craven was elected a Member of the Institution on the 4th of December, 1866.

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